Coziness can take on many forms, and everyone has their favourite cozy experiences from time to time. To some, coziness means kicking back and binge-watching their favourite show after a long day of studying. To others, it means snuggling up in bed after a refreshing bath, finishing the day with a few pages from their favourite novel. What do all these moments have in common? Contentment, comfort, and warmth.
Within the gaming industry, the notion of ‘cozy gaming’ has definitely been on the rise lately. Over the past few years, especially since the pandemic, this niche collection of games has proven to be immensely popular, with both novice and experienced gamers alike looking to get into the coziness and only continue to gain further traction. Essentially, developers of ‘cozy’ games take these core feelings of coziness found in our everyday lives and translate them, be it through captivating storylines, aesthetic artwork, or positive messages into playable experiences. What I have noticed is that many games considered ‘cozy’ have actually taken ideas from games developed 10-15+ years ago, back when the phrase simply didn’t exist – classics you may recognise like ‘Animal Crossing: Wild World’, ‘Nintendogs’, ‘Viva Piñata’, ‘The Sims’, and the ‘Cooking Mama’ franchise were all quite popular, albeit marked as ‘simulation-type’ games rather than ‘cozy’. These games have definitely contributed to the success of cozy gaming today and laid down the foundations for coziness in the industry to prosper.
Being someone who has previously played a wide range of genres, I always see myself being pulled back to cozy games, enamoured by their charming messages which, in my opinion, have been getting increasingly harder to find amidst an industry recently plagued with money-grabbing AAA titles, gachas, and grindy games. As a university student, cozy games also provide the perfect chance to wind down after a laborious day at the Maughan Library, while not feeling that I have to spend all evening devoting myself to the game, creating a healthy work/play balance.
In this article, I’ll analyse the main characteristics found in cozy games, the key decisions that developers make during production, and how this has led to much larger adoption from players across all consoles and all genres.
Simple to pick up, easy to master
In most cozy genre games, I've observed a common trend: they intentionally maintain simple learning curves, allowing players to progressively enhance their skills while ensuring a high degree of engagement and interactivity. Thanks to their easy-to-understand controls and overall freedom, these games readily immerse players with minimal effort. Players of all skill levels, whether they're newcomers, returning after a break, or working through their Steam Summer Sale backlog, can enjoy these games. Moreover, many cozy titles facilitate playing with multiple friends simultaneously, offering a departure from traditional multiplayer matchmaking systems that pair players with strangers. This feature is often found in games that grant players the freedom to choose their own objectives rather than adhering to a strict sequence of steps. In essence, these multiplayer options enhance the cozy experience by fostering camaraderie and creating lasting memories with real-life friends. Sometimes, nothing beats hopping online with a group, engaging in random conversations while enjoying a cozy game in the background.
Feelings of happiness, safety, and positivity
In my view, cozy games differ from established video game genres by subverting their mechanics and overall vibes. While various genres aim to enhance their sense of unreality, cozy games often stand out as refreshing experiences. Unlike many other games that can feel repetitive or burdensome, cozy games prioritize creating positive player experiences. They avoid the grind and intense skill-testing elements found in multiplayer-focused titles and discourage time-consuming gameplay. Instead, cozy games focus on fostering player satisfaction after each session. Unlike multiplayer games like Valorant or Rocket League, where poor performance can lead to guilt, or games like Genshin Impact with its pay-to-win quests causing frustration, cozy games provide continuous positive feedback and reinforcement. This means players can enjoy short 10-15 minute sessions and still feel they've made progress since their last play. This repeated positivity can significantly benefit players' overall well-being by allowing them to unwind and express themselves without added mental strain. Stress levels tend to remain consistently low in cozy games, a stark contrast to other genres that frequently induce spikes in stress levels.
Intentionally low difficulty levels
One key aspect to explore in the realm of cozy games is their approach to in-game difficulty. While all games naturally incorporate a level of challenge that evolves with player progression to enhance the learning experience, some genres, like Soulsborne, push difficulty to the forefront. In contrast, cozy games predominantly opt for a gentler difficulty curve, intentionally prioritizing feelings of contentment and tranquility over frustration and anger. The Soulsborne genre stands as a stark counterpoint to cozy gaming, abandoning warmth and comfort to immerse players in discomfort, ominous settings, permanent item losses, hordes of foes, and colossal adversaries, with the sole aim of stoking player frustration. Returning to the theme of coziness, game developers have recognized the existence of a distinct player base seeking precisely this soothing atmosphere, which has been notably absent from the gaming landscape for some time.
One thing that is worth mentioning is that cozy games do not exactly have a set criteria on whether they are cozy or not – it is very likely that while there are a bunch of unanimously agreed cozy games in the community, some are a bit harder to determine. I think that if you believe a game is cozy, then it most likely is. It doesn’t matter if the art style or atmosphere doesn’t quite match other games, or if a certain game is much harder than all the rest. As long as it creates feelings of comfort and happiness, it certainly is cozy.
Edited by Gio Eldred Mitre, Gaming Editor